Review of Snoworks All Terrain Course, Hintertux, May 2018

Sunday, 20 May 2018  | 

"We've done the drills, let's go and play the game!", yelled Lee Townend, our Snoworks Instructor, as he led us to the top of a beautiful off-piste itinerary below the Hintertux Glacier in the Austrian Tyrol. We followed Lee, skiing on lovely spring corn snow, as he led us down a spectacular natural bowl and eventually back to the Hintertux mid station, where we loaded up into the gondolas with big grins on our faces. 

That little vignette conveys the essence of a Snoworks course.  They aim to help recreational skiers develop into all mountain skiers, able to handle anything that the slope or the weather can throw at them. Steeps, bumps, deep snow, ice, flat light, slush, no problem, you'll have the tactics and skills for that. The company is run by ski guru Phil Smith and his wife Emma Carrick-Anderson, ex GB racer, Eurosport commentator and 4 times Olympian.  Along with their other instructor colleagues, they have developed an innovative teaching philosophy that focuses on helping the client to achieve outcomes (e.g. can you ski that slope, in control, in these conditions), rather than concentrating excessively on inputs (e.g. is my body in the right shape), which can be a focus of traditional ski instruction.  The basis of this philosophy is rooted in the fact that effective skiing involves a blend of many skills that are constantly adapting to the varied and continually changing environment of a ski slope. A Snoworks course will help you identify the key skills, practice them, and help you choose what mixture of them will enable you to enjoy any specific ski situation.  

Over the years I've been on several Snoworks courses, including a Race Carve course in Tignes, which you can read about here. This year I decided to mix things up a bit and signed up to end of season "All Terrain" course at Hintertux.  Here are the key facts:

  • Where: Hintertux Glacier (365 day skiing)
  • When:  May 2018
  • Cost: £395
  • Hours of Instruction: Monday to Friday, 9am-3pm (approximately)
  • Instructors: Lee Townend, Nick Quinn and Euan Gardiner (all BASI ISTD International Ski Instructors)
  • Hotel: Der Rindererhof 4* (ideally placed at the foot of the bottom lift)
  • Travel: I flew to Innsbruck and used Ski-Lifts for the transfer (they were excellent), which took approximately 75 minutes.  Many of the other clients flew to Munich and took a transfer arranged by Snoworks- I didn't to avoid the 3 hour road journey. A few used Austrian public transport (rail followed by bus), which is the greenest solution!
  • Ski Hire: Sport Nenner, very convenient at the bottom of the lift station.

I arrived at the hotel on Saturday afternoon, where I bumped into a few other people who were on the same course.  They were a friendly bunch, so we met up for dinner and a few of us organised to ski together on Sunday.

The course proper started with a 7pm meet up on Sunday, where we were divided into 3 groups, based on speed of travel, and assigned to an instructor.  We met again at 9am sharp the next day, and we skied with our designated instructor, in my case Lee, for most of the subsequent week.  However, for three mornings we split into separate groups and did specific clinics on moguls, short radius turns and long radius turns. These clinics had a very technical focus, and included drills and video analysis, while the remaining time with our "core" instructor gave us more of the all-mountain experience that Snoworks is famous for.  I really enjoyed this mix- the technical development was excellent (the video camera doesn't lie!), but I think a whole week of it might be too intense for many, so the breaks for a freer, more open type of instruction in varied piste and off-piste environments counterbalanced it nicely.  This structure meant that each of us got to ski with more of the people on the course, which was great socially.  It also meant that we all had a chance to have some input from the three coaches, each of whom had areas of specific expertise (e.g. Euan is an ex FIS-level racer, so it was fantastic to get his input on long radius carved turns). The instruction was really first class and it's a great credit to the guys delivering it that you wouldn't have known they were at the end of a long season- they were as happy and enthusiastic as if it was the first day.

Although the course was held in mid-May, I was positively surprised by the amount of ski terrain that was available to us. As well as the glaciated ski area, many of the other runs were still open, and it was possible to ski all the way down to the lower-mid station at 2100m (the top is at 3200m).  In general the snow was typical of spring skiing - fairly hard in the morning, followed by several hours of beautiful snow as it transitioned to more slushy snow in the later afternoon.  However, I think this is great for technical development on a ski course, as you are presented with the challenges thrown up by many different types of snow in one day.  It's also possible to get powder skiing at this time of year- on our last day of the course we were blessed with a glorious 4 inches of fresh! Not a bad way to end the season.

I can't write a review of this course without mentioning the social aspect.  Most of the 24 people on the course were staying in the same hotel, so with that and the group mixing mentioned above, we had a great time together and bonded well  The food at the hotel was fabulous (in quantity and quality), there were a few evenings of semi-organised semi-competitive entertainment (table tennis and pool) and the Apres-ski at the nearby bars was massive fun.  There was a great mix of people on the course, from all sorts of backgrounds and all sorts of ages, but all united by a love of skiing and the outdoors.

So overall, what did I think?  Well, since I've been back I've been scouring the Snoworks website looking for next year's edition of this course so that I can book on it before it fills up. Says it all really!